It is has been said the NFL stands for the “No Fun League” rather than the National Football League for its suppression of individual expression. The less than flattering moniker might not be too far off from the truth.
However, some may say the NFL front office dropped the proverbial ball when they asked Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer to remove a sticker affixed to his helmet honoring the late Pat Tillman.
The sticker, a circle bearing the former Arizona Cardinal safety’s uniform number was worn by every NFL player last season. Tillman was killed during an exchange of friendly fire in April serving as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan after quitting professional football.
Plummer and Tillman were teammates in college at Arizona State and for the Arizona Cardinals.
NFL players are subject to some of the most rigorous uniform constraints in all of sports. Players must wear their socks at an appropriate length. Their pants must be worn so their knees are covered. They must only wear equipment that is licensed by the league.
These are just a few of the rules that, according to the NFL, must be adhered to. Violators face fines.
The Philadelphia Flyers, a team steeped in playoff and personal tragedy have worn tributes in various forms to fallen players. When standout goalie Pelle Lindbergh was killed in an automobile accident in 1985, players wore his number 31 stitched on their orange and black sweaters. More recently after promising defenseman Dimitri Tertyshny was killed in a boating accident, the team wore stickers not unlike those in tribute to Tillman.
The Phillies wore a patch this season honoring former General Manager Paul “Pope” Owens and former closer Tug McGraw. Both had been fighting long illnesses.
The argument may be made that if the league makes an exception for Plummer, then other players might feel their right of freedom of expression is being withheld. The NFL sees it as regulating what might happen if uniform rules are eased.
What if Donovan McNabb decides he wants to put a Chunky Soup sticker on his helmet?
What if Jeremy Roenick wants to stitch a Toyota patch on his jersey?
What if Allen Iverson wants to honor a fallen friend with an embroidered arm band?
They’re called “uniforms” for a reason. Always the same; unvarying. Conforming to one principle, standard or rule; consistent
It’s one thing to honor a player’s memory as a team or league, but individual tributes need to be kept personal.
Don’t be mistaken, Jake Plummer’s intentions are good. He wants to honor is fallen friend. It’s something that could be accomplished by taking a sharpie pen to the tape on his hands or liner of his helmet.
Some may say the NFL may be overstepping its bounds by regulating a little piece of vinyl. Some may say it’s insensitive and is unpatriotic.
However, in the case of Plummer, there is a time to pick up and move on.